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The gorgeous art of geometry

Through historical references and anecdotes, artist Raghavi Chinnadurai gives us a peek into the maths and science of kolam art

Published: 19th June 2021 06:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th June 2021 10:18 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: On April 24, 2021, Inauguration Kolam 2021, a collaborative public art, was laid down in front of the US Capitol to welcome President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Sprawling across 2,500 sq ft, the artwork comprised 1,800 handcrafted cardboard tiles, featuring kolams painted by people across the USA. The humble ritualistic art, conventionally drawn at the threshold of south Indian households, celebrated diversity among the foreign diaspora, at this event.

The many forms
In the recent past, kolam beyond its aesthetic appeal and auspiciousness in traditional contexts has intrigued many enthusiasts to understand the multiple layers of the artform. One among them is Raghavi Chinnadurai, founder, Punchmittai. In a lecture, Maths and Myths behind Sikku Kolam a threshold art, hosted by DakshinaChitra recently, the freelance artist touched upon the relevance of kolam in cultural, scientific, literary and mathematical contexts.

“I wanted to explore how our ancestors used it as a medium of expressing emotions and connecting with nature. That’s when I stumbled upon the different kinds of kolam and how they are assimilated in different cultures,” points out Raghavi, who began her research on kolam three years back. Muggulu in Andhra Pradesh, rangavalli in Karnataka, kalamezhuthu in Kerala, rangoli in northern India, alpona in West Bengal, chowk mandana in Rajasthan, joothi chitra in Odisha...kolam manifests in different forms in different cultures and each has a specific grammar borrowed from the immediate environment, she highlights. It’s the similarities and differences among these artforms that make them special.

“Muggulu showcases fine tracery of intersecting lines and geometrical shape. Rangavalli has grids of crosses instead of dots. Alpona is characterised by curvilinear and free-from designs. Joothi Chitra is similar to kolam and is used as both floor and wall art. Each culture has its set of superstitions and religious values attached to the artform. In some places like Kerala and West Bengal, the artform is drawn only during rituals,” notes Raghavi.

Decoding the designs
Going by the etymological definition, kolam represents beauty and is often used in the context of appearance. “In Sangam literature, kolam finds a place in Paripadal, Kalithogai, Perupanatrupadai, Silapathikaram and Manimegalai. It’s often mentioned in the context of appearance and not as floor art. But, in Ramayana and Mahabharata, it’s portrayed as floor art. Lakshmanrekha drawn to save Sita from the evil is a fine example,” she elaborates. Besides the mythological reasons, it’s the mathematical angle that inspired Raghavi the most.

As per the ethnographic definition, a kolam is a geometric line drawing composed of straight lines, curves and loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. But, there’s so much trivia behind the twists and turns, she says. “Our traditional kolam is of two types linebased and dot-based which is further divided into sikku and padi. In sikku, it’s the lines that curve the dot and in padi, the lines and dots are connected. Dots hold a significant place in every kolam. It’s the highest form of abstraction where the form meets the formless,” she explains.

Ruled by rules
Kolams are governed by basic rules. Every kolam must be symmetrical along the X, Y and radial axis. Lines, connecting or passing around the dots, should cross each other only once. Dots should be surrounded on all sides. “There’s a reason why kolams are called puzzles and they can be solved only if you respect the rules. It epitomises many mathematical properties.

Mathematical concepts like Golden Ratio, Euler’s Circuit and Array diagrams have been expressed and studied through kolam. Our grandmothers had no education. It’s through kolam they learnt to budget, measure and do all calculations,” says Raghavi. In recent times, kolam has also been used as a therapeutic tool in the form of mandalas.

“It has been practised for many generations as a hobby. It’s said to calm your mind, improve concentration and relieve you of all the stress. Many youngsters and bloggers are taking it up and promoting it as an art form. There’s so much that’s been written about kolam by Indian researchers and I stumbled upon them at Dakshina- Chitra library, where I’m currently undergoing training for curation and museum management,” shares Raghavi, who will soon be joining Royal College of Arts, London, to pursue an MA in Arts. She’s currently working on a sikku kolam and watercolour series. Raghavi hopes to conduct kolam workshops for children. Till then, we’ll marvel at this art. For details, visit Instagram page: punchmittai_studio



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